JUNE 1, 2007
Family Programs Update
Volume 6, Number 31
This newsletter is published bi-monthly by the AUSA Family Programs Directorate. If you would like to receive the Family Programs Update by e-mail, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and type "subscribe" in the subject line.
In This Issue:
- FY 2008 Defense Authorization Bill Would Improve Pay and Benefits
- Legislation Proposes Expansion of Eligibility of VA Mortgage Life Insurance
- Indiana and Arkansas Pass Military Friendly Legislation
- New VA Panel to Improve Services for Returning Combat Veterans; Seeks Comment
- Fidelity Fined for Misleading Servicemembers about Investments
- Possible Telephone Scam Targets Military Families
- MyPay Improves Online Security
- Army Provides Online Source for Retiring Soldiers and Spouses
- Know Your RSO, Your Guide to Retiring and Retirement
- Army Introduces New Pin for Retired Soldiers
- Department of Labor Helps Veterans Find Employment
- PFCU Foundation Provides Financial Tools and Support to Military Personnel
- DoD Blocks Access to Certain Internet Sites
- USAREUR Surveys Well-Being of Troops and Families Stationed in Europe
- DoDEA Announces New Eligibility Guidelines for Free/Reduced School Lunches
- Restructured TRICARE Reserve Select Coming in October
- Grand Ole Opry to Honor US Military with Summer Salute
- Cell Phones for Soldiers Provides Troops with Prepaid Calling Cards
- DeCA Survey Seeks Customer Feedback on Expanded Virtual Commissary
- Army & Air Force Exchange Service Recalls “Soldier Bear” Toy
FY 2008 Defense Authorization Bill Would Improve Pay and Benefits
The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the FY 2008 Defense Authorization Bill on May 24, 2007. The bill includes provisions to improve military pay, benefits, healthcare and military family well-being.
The bill would:
Authorize a pay raise of 3.5% for Servicemembers.
Prevent administration plans to raise TRICARE enrollment fees.
Expand eligibility for Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) to include Servicemembers medically retired for a combat-related disability.
Direct the Department of Defense to study and develop a plan to address the findings of the Army medical department's fourth assessment of the mental health and well-being of troops in Iraq, including findings that multiple and lengthy deployments lead to increased mental health and marital problems.
Require the Secretary of Defense to establish a Family Readiness Council to develop a comprehensive policy and plans to improve the support for and coordination of family readiness programs.
Amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow certain spouses and children of Servicemembers residing under orders in foreign countries to treat their time accompanying the Servicemember as residence in the United States for the purpose of satisfying citizenship requirements.
Allow Servicemembers to designate in writing any person as their death gratuity beneficiary and to designate guardians of minor children as recipients of the Survivor Benefit Plan.
Provide $50 million in supplemental education aid to school districts affected by Base Realignment and Closure actions.
The Senate is expected to vote on the measure in June. Once the Senate’s version is passed the bill will pass to conference to resolve any differences in the House and Senate versions. To view the full text of the bill go to http://www.thomas.loc.gov and search under bill number S. 567.
Legislation Proposes Expansion of Eligibility of VA Mortgage Life Insurance
Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) introduced a bill on May 2 that would extend Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI) to some disabled active-duty Servicemembers. VMLI provides mortgage insurance that would be payable to the lender on a home loan if a disabled veteran dies. The amount of coverage is capped at $90,000, but could be less if the mortgage balance at time of death is less. Under current legislation, VMLI is only available to veterans. However, in some cases, severely injured Servicemembers can remain on active duty status for years. The bill (S 1265) would make VMLI available to active-duty personnel who had received housing modification grant assistance from VA for severely disabling conditions. The bill has been referred to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Indiana and Arkansas Pass Military Friendly Legislation
Two more states have passed legislation that improves benefits for military personnel and their family members. Effective October 1, 2007, military spouses in Arkansas will be eligible for unemployment compensation if they have to terminate employment because of a military required relocation. Arkansas is now the fifteenth state to pass such legislation and may soon be joined by South Carolina, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Indiana’s state legislature has also established a spouse employment program to encourage professional licensing organizations to expedite the process through which military spouses must go to transfer professional licenses from their previous states of residence. In addition, the legislation exempts all military pay earned while serving in combat theater from Indiana state income tax and increases the maximum allowable state income tax deductions on military pay (including retirement pay and survivor’s benefits) from $2,000 to $5,000 per year. The law will also institute in-state tuition rates for out-of-state Servicemembers assigned to Indiana.
State policies can have a significant impact on the well-being and quality of life of military families. The Department of Defense has recognized this by establishing the USA4 Military Families initiative to educate state policymakers, not-for-profit associations, concerned business interests, and other state leaders about the needs of military members and their families. The partnership between the DoD and states had already demonstrated progress on several key issues such as spouse employment, including unemployment compensation for transferring military spouses, in-state tuition allowances, and assistance for severely injured Servicemembers and their families. Learn more at http://www.usa4militaryfamilies.dod.mil/
New VA Panel to Improve Services for Returning Combat Veterans; Seeks Comment
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Jim Nicholson, recently announced the formation of a committee to advise him on ways to improve VA programs serving veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and their families. The Advisory Committee on OIF/OEF Veterans and Families comes in response to the findings of an interagency Task Force established by President Bush to examine ways to improve the delivery of federal services and benefits to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The seventeen member committee will be chaired by retired Lt. Gen. David Barno and will include veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, family members, survivors, and representatives from major veterans’ organizations. The first meeting of the Advisory Committee took place on May 14 in Alexandria, VA and included briefings from senior officials at the VA and comments from veterans and family members about their experiences with the VA’s Seamless Transition initiative. People seeking more information about the committee or who wish to register to make a statement of up to five minutes should contact Tiffany Glover by e-mail at email@example.com.
Fidelity Fined for Misleading Servicemembers about Investments
The National Association of Security Dealers (NASD) has fined two Fidelity broker-dealers $400,000 for preparing and distributing misleading sales literature promoting Fidelity’s Destiny I and II Systematic Investment Plans. The plans were sold primarily to US military personnel. NASD found that the advertising literature for these plans exaggerated the plans’ performance and gave misleading information about share options. NASD officials noted that these failures were made worse because the plans were largely targeted towards Servicemembers who often have a limited amount of time to study and evaluate investment choices. As part of an agreement with NASD, both broker-dealers (Fidelity Investments Institutional Services Company, Inc. of Smithfield, RI and Fidelity Distributors Corporation of Boston) are required to contact Destiny Plan holders with information to assist them with their investment. To learn more about NASD’s actions visit http://www.saveandinvest.org/financialProducts/investmentPlans/fidelityBrokerage.aspx. The $400,000 fine will be paid to the NASD Investor Education Foundation to help fund its Military Financial Education Campaign which funds educational programs to equip members of the United States military and their families with the knowledge and skills necessary to make informed financial decisions. More information is available at http://www.saveandinvest.org.
Possible Telephone Scam Targets Military Families
The American Red Cross is warning military families to be alert to a possible telephone scam targeting military families. The warning comes after a military spouse received a telephone call from an individual claiming to be a Red Cross representative. The caller stated the spouse's husband had been injured in Iraq. The caller then stated medical treatment could not start until the paperwork was completed and that in order to start the paperwork they needed the spouse to verify her husband's social security number and date of birth. Fortunately, the spouse was on the alert and did not provide any information to the caller.
So far this is the only reported incident of this kind. However, military families should be aware that American Red Cross representatives typically do not contact military members or their family members directly and almost always go through the chain of command. If a Servicemember is injured, the Department of Defense will notify the family directly.
In general, Servicemembers and their families should be careful not to give out any personal information over the phone if contacted by unknown/unverified individuals. If an individual is unsure about the identity of a caller, he or she should take the caller's name, telephone number and organizational affiliation and then verify the caller's identity independently. The American Red Cross has issued a press release about this matter: http://www.redcross.org/pressrelease/0,1077,0_314_6732,00.html.
MyPay Improves Online Security
MyPay, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service’s online portal, now has a new security feature to protect users’ personal data against malicious software such as spyware, trojans, and keylogging programs. DFAS has installed a virtual keyboard which allows customers to login by clicking on keys displayed on the screen rather than using their actual keyboard. DFAS users can learn more about MyPay’s enhanced security features at https://mypay.dfas.mil. The website also has several fact sheets to help users protect themselves against online identity theft.
Army Provides Online Source for Retiring and Retired Soldiers and Spouses
Whether retirement is five years in your future or a distant memory, you can find the information you need in the Army G-1’s Retirement Services Web site: http://www.armyg1.army.mil/retire. The site features both preretirement and postretirement sections. Those getting ready to retire can consult resources such as a Preretirement Counseling Guide, a Preretirement Briefing, and an entire section devoted to the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP). Those who already retired will want to bookmark the online Handbook for Retired Soldiers and Family Members and make a file copy of the Casualty Assistance Checklist for their Families.
Know Your RSO, Your Guide to Retiring and Retirement
Every retiring Soldier, Retired Soldier, Family member and surviving spouse is served by an installation Retirement Services Officer (RSO). RSOs prepare Soldiers and Families for retirement and continue to support Retired Soldiers and Families after retirement. The Army RSO program is unique. While other services have volunteer retiree activities offices, only the Army has a cadre of paid RSOs (although some of our Sister Services are working to build a similar program). RSOs have been working to establish prominent sites on their installation homepages so you should be able to find your RSO’s listing and Web site. Of course, all RSOs are listed in the RSO section of the Army G-1’s Retirement Services Web site (http://www.armyg1.army.mil/rso/rso.asp) which includes their contact information and links to their e-mail and Web sites.
Army Introduces New Pin for Retired Soldiers
The Army has created a new pin to emphasize the continuing bond between the Army and its almost 800,000 Retired Soldiers. The pin is the Army logo, headed by the word “Retired”. The new pin is larger than its predecessor and clearly identifies the wearer as part of the Army. Mailing of the pin with a letter from the Army Chief of Staff and Sergeant Major of the Army is just about complete. The packet also includes information on the Army Strong campaign and the $2,000 recruiting referral bonus for retired Soldiers, plus an Army retired window sticker.
“We’re asking retired Soldiers to wear their retired pins proudly. We want them to wear their new pin to show pride in their past service, and as a ‘call to service’ for others in the community,” John Radke, Chief of Army Retirement Services, said. “We know that most communities are far from an Army post. Many young people have no living relatives who served in the military. The retired Soldiers in their town could be their first personal contact with the Army. The new pins will make our retired Soldiers easy to find.”
The Army Chief of Staff’s Retiree Council proposed the pin’s creation at their annual meeting in April 2006 and it was approved in late fall last year.
Department of Labor Helps Veterans Find Employment
The Department of Labor has over 3,200 centers across the United States to assist veterans with resume writing and job hunting skills. Information about these centers is available on the website http://www.hirevetsfirst.gov. The website provides a number of valuable resources for veterans and also has a section where employers can learn about the benefits of hiring veterans and explains how military skills can be transferred to the civilian workforce.
PFCU Foundation Provides Financial Tools and Support to Military Personnel
The Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PFCU) Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting Servicemembers and their families. The Foundation was founded shortly after September 11, 2001 to assist military families facing financial difficulties because of predatory lending practices. To help these families recover from debt an “Asset Recovery Kit” is available at all PFCU branches. Additionally, the Foundation’s “Dream Makers” program provides $5,000 grants to low income Servicemembers and Department of Defense civilians to help with first time home purchases with down payments and settlement costs. The Foundation’s Military Heroes project is raising funds to provide a hospice room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center so family members can stay with Servicemembers who are terminally ill. Learn more at http://www.pentagonfoundation.org.
DoD Blocks Access to Certain Internet Sites
The Defense Department has begun blocking Internet access to several social networking websites, including MySpace, as well as music, video and photo sharing sites such as YouTube and Photobucket. According to the DoD the decision was made to prevent overloading bandwidth. The blocks affect only Defense Department computers. Servicemembers can access the sites using their personal computers. To read the DoD’s press release please visit http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=46014. Further comment on this story is available from Miitary.com: http://www.military.com/NewsContent/0,13319,135722,00.html
USAREUR Surveys Well-Being of Troops and Families Stationed in Europe
US Army Europe is asking Soldiers, civilians and family members to complete a survey to assess satisfaction with the effectiveness of well-being programs and services offered in their communities. The survey is confidential and the results will be used by commanders and program managers to identify programs and services that need improvement. The survey is available online at http://www.per.hqusareur.army.mil/umss/wbs.htm
DoDEA Announces New Eligibility Guidelines for Free/Reduced School Lunches
The Department of Defense Education Activity(DoDEA) encourages families of children attending its overseas schools to reapply for free and reduced price school lunches after the US Department of Agriculture approved an increase in the reimbursement rate. The USDA also authorized the use of the Alaska Income Eligibility Guidelines in qualifying families to participate in the program. As a result, more families may qualify under the new guidelines. This change applies to families of children attending DoDEA schools overseas in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Azores, Turkey, Cuba, Korea, Japan, and Okinawa. It does not include families of children attending DoDEA schools in Puerto Rico or Guam who fall under their State Department of Education programs.
Families can apply for eligibility to participate in the free and reduced price school lunch program by completing an application available at their installation. Installation commanders operate and maintain the program by providing instructions on how to apply for the program; determining eligibility of applicants and maintaining and updating a list of students enrolled in the program. [Source: http://www.dodea.edu/pressroom/releasesDisplay.cfm?prId=20070404]
Restructured TRICARE Reserve Select Coming in October
The TRICARE Management Activity recently announced that it will restructure TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) later this year. TRICARE Reserve Select is a health insurance program that offers certain members of the Reserve Component and their families an opportunity to purchase comprehensive health coverage similar to TRICARE Standard and TRICARE Extra. Currently, monthly premiums are based on three qualification tiers. The restructuring of TRS would eliminate the three tier system so that qualified TRS beneficiaries would pay the same premiums, beginning October 1, 2007. Details of the restructured TRS will be made available to beneficiaries by late summer through http://www.tricare.mil. [Source: http://www.tricare.mil/pressroom/news.aspx?fid=283]
Grand Ole Opry to Honor US Military with Summer Salute
The Grand Ole Opry is set to honor members of the United States military this summer with an Opry Summer Salute. The Salute, which features special shows, recognition of military personnel, and special offers, and military performances and displays in the Opry Plaza, began on Memorial Day weekend and will continue until Labor Day weekend. Beginning May 21, persons can submit salutes to the Servicemembers close to them to be read live at Opry performances throughout the summer. Opry shows are every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday night. Military personnel should mention code MIL10X when making reservations at 1-800-733-6779. To plan an Opry visit, log on to http://www.opry.com.
Cell Phones for Soldiers Provides Troops with Prepaid Calling Cards
When 13-year-old Brittany Bergquist of Norwell, Massachusetts heard about a local Soldier who had run up a massive phone bill calling home from Iraq she decided to do something to help troops stationed overseas. In April 2004, Brittany and her brother Robbie started the non-profit organization Cell Phones for Soldiers which recycles old and unwanted cell phones for cash. The cash is used to buy pre-paid calling cards which are then distributed to US troops. The charity has already distributed thousands of calling cards to troops in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and elsewhere. There are now over 3,000 cell phone drop off locations across the United States, which can be located through the charity’s website: http://www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com/index.html. Servicemembers can also make a request for a calling card through the site.
DeCa Survey Seeks Customer Feedback on Expanded Virtual Commissary
The Defense Commissary Agency is seeking customer feedback on potential expansion of its Virtual Commissary. Customers can provide comments using a short, three-question survey that is posted online at https://www.commissaries.com/online_grocery_survey.cfm. The survey is available now and will remain posted until mid-July. DeCA’s Virtual Commissary, created in October 2005, allows authorized shoppers to purchase prepackaged gift baskets containing products that DeCA’s industry partners provide for sale online at commissary prices, which means an overall savings of 30 percent or more as compared with retail grocery stores. The survey results will be used to determine if commissary customers would be interested in shopping for groceries online and having them delivered. Customers can access the Virtual Commissary through DeCA’s official website, http://www.commissaries.com. The link is located under the “Shopping” tab.
Army & Air Force Exchange Service Recalls “Soldier Bear” Toy
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES), has announced a voluntary recall of the Soldier Bear Brand Invincible Transport Converters because of the high levels of lead in the paint. Lead is toxic if ingested by young children and can cause adverse health effects. The model included in this recall is: 88931, UPC # 6 98567 88931 4 CRC #: 1419301. The toy was sold at AAFES stores worldwide from August 2006 through April 2007 for about $19.95. Consumers should immediately take the toys away from children and return the product to the nearest AAFES store for full refund. For additional information about this recall please visit the AAFES website: http://aafes.com/pa/news/07news/07-038.htm